April 23rd, 2009


Ebook branding

kriswrites pointed me to a post about ebooks at The Idea/Logical Blog: Some ebook observations.

What this post suggests to me is that publishers need to change from a "book" model of selling their products to a "software" model. Software publishers today manage to sell products very like ebooks, with the same problems of "need to be quality-checked on every platform they run on" and "retailers want to use margin to gain share," yet they seem to be doing very well. The key is that many different strategies have been successful (for different products in different markets at different times) -- publishers will have to become as nimble in selling ebooks as software publishers have been forced to become in selling software. And, as with software, the pricing will be all over the map -- bestselling fiction for $4.99, technical titles for $499 -- as publishers learn what the market will bear. The transition to this model will occur as it did when video tapes moved from a "priced for rental" model to a "priced for sale" model in the 1980s -- same product + different market = entirely different price points.

The branding problem is an interesting one, and differs from the software model. On my computer, the user experience of the Apple-branded word processor, the Microsoft-branded word processor, and the several other brands of word processor differs enormously, but the content (the words they process and the things you can do to those words) is quite similar. But on my ebook reader, the user experience of the Tor-branded, Del Rey-branded, and DAW-branded ebooks is nearly identical although the content of each book is unique. This makes it tough for a brand to establish itself.

Some publishers will try to impose a "house look-and-feel" on their ebooks to create a brand. This won't work because the ebook experience is so malleable -- devices vary in their capabilities, and users want to impose their reading preferences (e.g. font and font size) which is one of the main selling points of the ebook over the paper book -- and anything the publisher does to put anything other than plain, readable text on the screen will be resisted by readers.

One thing that publishers can do to establish a brand is to make sure to nail the aspects that make one ebook better than another on the same platform. Make sure the illustrations are the best possible for the platform, make sure the table of contents works, enable any optional features, and do the right thing for every supported platform. This is a heck of a lot of work, but quality control in a multi-platform environment always is, and in the software business we have a saying that "quality doesn't cost money... quality makes money."

I think, though, that the bottom line for branding ebooks is identical to that for paper books. A publisher can get some aspects of a paper book right or wrong (font and font size, paper quality, binding) but fundamentally most paper books are quite similar -- ultimately the thing that readers will remember about a publisher, if they remember anything at all, is whether or not they consistently provide the kind of books they want to read. That's how to create a brand.


Writing update

I've been keeping up with my goal of at least 500 words or 1 hour of editing per day, but the last time I wrote a word of new draft prose was about a month ago. Since then it's been all editing, outlines, notes, and proposals.

The good news is that in the last month or so I completed edits on three or four stories and sent them off to market for the first time. I also resubmitted some stories that had been languishing after being rejected, plus sent in some reprints to audio markets... all in all, I've more than doubled my number of stories in submission from the first of the year. More submissions will, I hope, lead to more sales. Also, now I can say that the proposals I wrote were for Wild Cards characters and stories, and that some of them were accepted (more news on that front when I can share it).

The bad news is that I haven't sold a spec story since August. I've had seven acceptances since then, but four of those were audio reprints and the other three were sales to markets where I'd been invited. It's nice to get an invite, or to sell a reprint, but a sale of a new story to a magazine or open anthology is more of a triumph. However, the recent increase in submissions has led to an increase in rejections, which does at least feel more like progress than the period from November to February during which I received no responses at all. It doesn't help that I've had three stories out for over 200 days (the longest has been out for almost 400 days), which is a long time to wait for a response on a short fiction submission. None of these markets have responded to the e-queries I sent in mid-February, but for a variety of reasons I'm not ready to give up on any of them yet.

However, one of the audio reprint sales was "Babel Probe" at Drabblecast, which is a truly amazing performance of the story, and another one (just last week) was "Charlie the Purple Giraffe," also to Drabblecast, which I am really looking forward to hearing.

I've also received my author copy of Nebula Awards Showcase 2009, which has a gorgeous cover and includes my Nebula nominee "Titanium Mike Saves the Day" (illustrated below by pussinboots).

So, all in all, a pretty good writing month. Tomorrow I expect to begin work on an entirely new story... though I haven't yet decided which one, and the first few days at least will still be notes and outline. I'm looking forward to drafting again!